Unraveling the wonders of the Olympus OM-D viewfinder and rear screen options

Written by Gary on December 27th, 2017

The Olympus OM-D cameras are truly amazing in the sheer number of ways they can be used depending upon how you like to shoot, but they can be very confusing.

Last post, was about 10 “hidden” menu tips, this post is to look at the viewfinder and rear LCD screen usage which can be just as confusing – but extremely capable once you work out which settings work best for you.

The default style – automatic eye detect viewfinder switching mode:

The OM-D cameras, like most mirrorless cameras,  have a rear sensor which detects a close object – usually your eye trying to look into the viewfinder, and when it does so, the EVF is activated while the rear screen display is deactivated.

When you move your eye away, the reverse happens and what displays on the rear screen depends on how you last set the monitor button – either the live view image, or the Super Control Panel.

Automatic Eye detect EVF switching is turned ON/OFF by either holding down the monitor button for 2 secs, or by going into the cogwheel menu I EVF Auto Switch.

The new “Quick Sleep” setting:

EVF Auto Switch = ON is the ONLY mode in which the new “Quick Sleep” setting (in cogwheel menu J2) actually functions. This was introduced with the E-M5 Mark II and E-M1 Mark II. It allows you to set the time for the EVF or rear screen to turn off (the Backlit LCD setting – 3, 5 or 8 secs or Power Off – 3 sec to 1 minute), if this is enabled, then taking your eye away from the EVF will activate the rear display. If the rear display was set for Super Control Panel, then it will be deactivated once the duration of the Backlit LCD setting is reached, and no user actions, and you then need to half press the shutter to re-activate it again. This Quick Sleep mode is indicated by a green ECO  at top right of the Super Control Panel, and is said to more than double your battery life – at the cost of some frustrations. If the rear display was set to Live View, the Quick Sleep function is not enabled.

For cameras with a swivel, flip out screen such as the E-M1 Mark II:

The functions change if you flip the rear screen out into selfie position, the Quick Sleep and the EVF autoswitch functions become disabled and,  if you have selfie assist mode enabled (cogwheel menu D3), the screen displays the Live View appropriately mirrored, a custom self-timer icon to allow you to quickly tap this to turn it on or off, and displays a camera icon so you can just tap that, then compose yourself until the self-timer activates the shutter. This is pretty much essential for a selfie as the shutter button is really hard to press while holding the camera in selfie position.

Things change again if you swivel it so it faces you  – the automatic eye detect viewfinder function remains disabled, you can’t view the EVF (unless you manually set EVF autoswitching to OFF) however, the Quick Sleep function keeps working as above.

If you then flip the screen so that it faces the camera with EVF autoswitching on, the rear screen is disabled and the EVF is activated when you put your eye next to it, and deactivated when you take your eye away – however, if you have Quick Sleep = ON, and you take your eye away from the EVF for longer than the Backlit LCD setting duration, then you will need to half press the shutter button to wake up the EVF, if you like this mode, I would turn Quick Sleep to OFF.

And then there are the cool Touch Screen picture taking functions.

First, ensure the touch screen setting turned on (cogwheel J1 menu).

Use the screen to set AF on a selected subject +/- take a shot – you can toggle the touch icon on the Live View screen into one of 3 settings:

  • touch set to OFF (except to change this icon again)
  • AF only – touch an area and AF will be activated on that region (can adjust size of that region using a touch zoom control on the right of the screen)
  • AF then take the shot – touch a subject on the screen when AF is achieved, shutter is released and a shot is taken – all usually within a split second.

Or, use the screen as an AF targeting pad:

  • set AF Targeting pad = ON (in cogwheel A2 menu)
  • the screen is automatically put into each with AF targeting pad  function with AF only touch mode in Live View mode or a “deactivated” screen with AF targeting functionality in EVF active mode
  • if the rear LCD screen is facing you flat against the camera, then, when you view the EVF, you can move your finger on the “deactivated” rear LCD and this will move the AF point around in the EVF – unfortunately, your nose touching the screen will move the AF region too!
  • if the rear LCD is flipped out and swiveled to face you but away from your nose, the EVF is deactivated if EVF Autoswitching is ON, so you must either use the Live View on the rear screen and move the AF point around on it, or turn EVF Autoswitching OFF before swiveling the screen then you can use the monitor button to activate the EVF with the rear screen just being used as an AF targeting pad.

Reading glass user’s mode – EVF only, no glasses needed

One of the reasons I now hate using dSLRs is that you use the viewfinder without glasses, but to set most of the menu items or review the playback image on the rear screen, you need to put your reading glasses on – if you do a lot of chimping (viewing the shots you take), this gets extremely frustrating, and you will probably accidentally break your glasses juggling them around, and heaven forbid if you forget your glasses – it practically becomes inoperable.

One of the reasons I love the Olympus OM-D is that I can set it up so I don’t need to use reading glasses at all!

On cameras with a swivel screen:

Single step: Just swivel the rear screen so it faces the camera, you can even leave EVF autoswitching to ON to conserve power. That’s it!

Wait, there’s more – if I want to use selfie mode – which I rarely do, I just flip out the screen into selfie position and if selfie assist is enabled as above, it works in full selfie mode. I just have to tap the camera icon to take the shot.

On cameras with a tilting screen:

Step 1. Turn the EVF auto switching to OFF (as outlined above).

Step 2. Press the monitor button to display the Live View and Record View in the EVF (the Super Control Panel automatically goes to the EVF when you hit OK in Live View mode)

Step 3. Press the monitor button to redirect the menu or playback image to the EVF each time this is needed.

Now EVERYTHING you do can be seen in the EVF – live view when you are taking the shot with shadow highlight blinkies, live histogram or dual electronic level gauges (don’t forget you can calibrate the levels via a menu option) as desired, the immediate shot temporary playback, the Super Control Panel if you hit the OK button, the full menu system if you hit the menu button and of course, the playback image with full magnified view functionality when you hit the playback button.

HEAVEN indeed!

AND, you can still use the rear screen as an AF targeting pad as above.

Oh, and a warning, viewing playback images and menus etc through the EVF is a bit weird to other people – especially if you have the lens pointed at them while doing so – be mindful of this and aim the lens at the ground so you don’t get an angry guy hitting you – because you won’t be seeing them coming!

4 main modes on how your Live View displays the image

The default mode – almost WYSIWYG:

The default live view mode in essence displays what the final shot should look like with all the current settings including white balance, exposure, Picture style or Art filter BUT not DOF preview (unless this is activated separately).

Live Boost 1 mode:

This is a basic view with the image brightness optimised for viewing, but Picture Style and Art Filters are displayed.

This is fantastic for situations where you will be under-exposing the ambient light substantially such as in flash photography or perhaps astro work.

Live boost 2 mode:

This is for really dark scenes such as astro work, but it really requires tripod and slow focusing or composing as the viewfinder refresh time is VERY LONG!

This function was added to the E-M1 and is available in subsequent models.

Simulated optical view or S-OVF:

This is designed to provide a view more closely resembling an optical viewfinder albeit with brightness optimised for viewing and only works with the EVF not the rear screen.

It is similar to the Live Boost 1 mode but Picture styles and Art Filters are NOT displayed and AWB keep warm color seems to be active.

This mode can be activated by adding this function to a button.

This function was added to the E-M1 in Nov 2015 and is available in subsequent models.

Saving battery life:

Mirrorless cameras by their nature use more battery than a dSLR which have an optical viewfinder and potentially rarely needs to use a Live View or LCD screen.

Having the rear screen folded towards the camera with EVF autoswitching ON means that there is little if any power drain from the rear screen while the EVF is powered off as soon as you take your eye away.

There has been a lot of debate as to which uses the more power – the rear screen or the EVF – I don’t think anyone can give an exact answer – please contact me on FB if you have tested it reliably.

I touched on one new method to save battery life on the latest OM-D cameras – the Quick Sleep setting which is designed to kick in within seconds of inactivity.

A re-cap of the Quick Sleep function:

  • ONLY works when EVF autoswitching = ON, AND, either:
    • rear screen displays Super Control Panel, OR
    • rear screen is facing the camera
  • it does NOT work when rear screen displays the Live View
  • may double your battery life but at a cost of some frustration as you may need to keep hitting the shutter release button to wake it up
  • only available on Olympus OM-D cameras models starting from the E-M5 Mark II and E-M1 Mark II


The cameras also have other settings which can save your battery life:

  • cogwheel menu J2: Backlit LCD – sets the time after which inactivity results in the rear screen dimming – 8 secs is reasonable.
  • cogwheel menu J2: Sleep – sets the time after which inactivity results in the camera going to sleep requiring half press shutter to waken. I would set this to around 1 minute.
  • cogwheel menu J2: Auto Power Off – sets the time after which inactivity results in the camera turning off, requiring the On/Off switch to be turned off then On to re-activate the camera. I would set this to about 5 minutes.
  • cogwheel  menu A2: AF illuminator – turn this OFF – reduces distracting lights from the camera as well as saving battery
  • wrench menu: monitor brightness – this can be turned down if you really need to and you are mainly using it indoors or at night, but usually best left at default middle setting.
  • wrench menu: Rec View – this is how long an image is display immediately after you have taken it – I shorten this to 0.5sec so I just get a glimpse of it and it doesn’t mean I have to keep hitting the shutter release to reduce “viewfinder blackout”

Don’t forget to turn the WiFi off after connecting to a smartphone.

Personally, I don’t really rely on the Sleep settings, I usually just have the habit of turning the camera off when I’m not using it – but the Auto Power Off is essential as I often accidentally turn it on or forget to turn it off.

Make sure you always have a spare charged battery!!!


More tips on my wiki pages.



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